With the NBA’s pending return, we took a deeper dive into some of the most pressing questions surrounding the Sixers heading into the playoffs. To do so, we put out a series of Twitter polls to gauge the fan’s perspective in what will be a wild next few months.

HOW CAN THE SIXERS MAKE A DEEP FINALS RUN?

INTERPRETING THE RESULTS: In a roller coaster season, these results make complete sense. The Sixers’ road effort was a major issue this year. When the defense was ON, Philadelphia was absolutely lethal. PHILADELPHIA RANKS FOURTH AMONG ALL TEAMS RETURNING TO ORLANDO WITH AN ELITE 101.8 DEFENSIVE RATING IN 39 REGULAR SEASON WINS (AHEAD OF MILWAUKEE). But the defense evaporated in their losses. In those games, the Sixers amassed the second largest drop in defensive rating among all NBA teams. The massive 17.5 drop in rating is the biggest gap of any playoff team.

With travel and fan environment no longer an obstacle, it will be very interesting to see which Sixers defense shows up. The team’s identify is built primarily on its bigger defensive lineups. Last season, Philadelphia entered the playoffs as a middling defense. But in the postseason we saw a considerable uptick in defensive play, primarily from Ben Simmons. A similar improvement this year would be significant. Why? THE SIXERS ARE 18-2 IN GAMES WHERE THEY POST A DEFENSIVE RATING OF 104.0 (OR BETTER). This summer the team appears more equipped to deliver the defensive outburst that suffocated teams at the Wells Fargo Center. A possibly healthier Simmons (and Horford) coupled with an invigorated Embiid could be the ticket to a surprising playoff run. 

WHO CAN DRIVE THE BIGGEST OFFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT?

INTERPRETING THE RESULTS: Thought we forgot about Horford and Harris? Absolutely not! The Sixers land in Orlando as the league’s 17th best offense. We can debate about coaching and lineup fit for the next hundred years. But the bottom line is this. Player performance dictates team success. For Al Horford this has been a slippery slope all season. HORFORD RANKS 13TH AMONG ALL NBA PLAYERS WITH 191 WIDE OPEN THREE POINT ATTEMPTS. But only four players shoot at a lower efficiency on more attempts (Hi Giannis!). Horford’s lack of consistency is one key reason for the Sixers’ shooting struggles. The team invested heavily in Al, and the expectation was that he could fill some of Redick’s outside scoring. A return to ‘Playoff Al’ would be a massive step forward. But is it the most critical? Take a look: 

Sixers When Shooting Over 40%
List of team record when player shoots over 40% from three

Enter Tobias Harris. The Sixers’ combo forward enjoyed a relatively productive scoring season. But Harris has seen his efficiency drop significantly since coming from Los Angeles. A modest improvement could be a game changer. THE SIXERS WIN 76% OF THE GAMES WHERE TOBIAS SHOOTS 40% (OR BETTER) FROM LONG DISTANCE. Is it unrealistic to expect a similar output from a guy who averaged 42% in a Clipper uniform? I don’t think so. Harris can drive more production by absorbing some of Horford’s catch-and-shoot threes. Now is the time to experiment with more Harris lineups at power forward. Pairing him with Simmons and three floor spacers enables Tobias to play off Simmons’ drive and kick offense. It also limits his impact on the ball, where Harris shot a meager 30% on pull up threes this season. 

AND WHAT ABOUT JOEL EMBIID?

The Sixers’ dominant big man is not lost in this conversation. There are concerns as to the physical shape Embiid will be in after a long layoff. But my friends, fear no more!

 

How this translates to the postseason is very interesting. At the peak of his physical powers, Embiid is unstoppable. Early in the 2018-2019 we got a glimpse of what a fit and dominant Jo can accomplish. During the season’s first three months, Embiid averaged close to 10 free throw attempts per game. The impact? GIGANTIC! PHILADELPHIA IS 44-10 IN GAMES WHERE EMBIID ATTEMPTS 10 OR MORE FREE THROWS. As our Brock Landes pointed out, there is an undeniable correlation between Embiid’s aggression and the Sixers’ success. So it falls on Embiid to rediscover some of that aggression and unlock easy points for a stagnant offense. As other teams scramble to return to action, Joel has now a golden opportunity to re-assert himself as the alpha center in the NBA. Confronting the harsh lessons from last postseason run.

Tune in next week as Sixers Twitter weighs in on Brett Brown and the many lineup options available in crunch time.